La Jolla Mom

The Best Museums in San Diego for Kids

There are so many amazing children’s museums in San Diego plus great museums for the entire family

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There are museums in San Diego for every interest, whether you have a passion for history, art, or nature. Many of our museums (both those that are world-famous and those that have a niche following) are family-friendly, but some really go above and beyond when it comes to exhibits and programming for children. 

People ask me all the time about the best museums in San Diego, and there are so many it’s hard to pick just a handful. In this post, however, I’d like to share some of my favorite children’s museums of San Diego. The options you’ll find below include some traditional museums, as well as some hands-on discovery spaces specifically for younger learners. 

Hopefully, my suggestions will make your next family trip to San Diego an amazing experience for the teens, tweens, kids, and toddlers in your crew. But first I want to talk about one of the best ways to make visiting all the best museums in San Diego easier and more affordable. 

Museums and the Go San Diego® pass

I love the Go San Diego pass and recommend it to all my friends and family who visit the area. It’s a one-stop pass that will give you easier access to 40+ attractions in and around the city, will let you skip the lines entirely in many cases, and will help you save money on San Diego attractions, too. 

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A lot of people buy the pass because it’s a simple way to get discounted admission to multiple theme parks like SeaWorld® San Diego and Knott’s Berry Farm plus hotspots like Belmont Park, but you can also use it to visit the following San Diego museums:

  • San Diego Air and Space Museum
  • San Diego Art Institute
  • San Diego Automotive Museum
  • San Diego History Center
  • San Diego Museum of Art
  • San Diego Museum of Man
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • The Fleet Science Center
  • The New Children’s Museum™
  • USS Midway Museum
  • Whaley House
  • Living Coast Discovery Center
  • Mingei Museum
  • Model Railroad Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art (Downtown)
  • Museum of Making Music
  • Museum of Photographic Arts
  • Coronado Museum of History and Art

There are various pass options available in 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7-day increments, but the Build Your Own pass is the best option for people who know exactly what they want to see and do in San Diego. 

The Best Museums and Children’s Museums of San Diego

Not every San Diego museum on this list is a children’s museum, but all of them are kid-friendly. I often tell people that one of the best things about raising a child in this city has to be the huge number of opportunities I’ve had to expose my daughter to history, culture, and the arts locally thanks to the many museums in the area. With that in mind, here are some of our family favorites:

Fleet Science Center

Location: Balboa Park

Best San Diego Children's Museums: Fleet Science Center
Photo courtesy of Fleet Science Center

Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park is another hands-on museum, but this time the whole family can get in on the fun. There are more than 100 interactive exhibits (plus movies in the IMAX dome theater) and a rotating selection of world-class temporary exhibits about everything from why the grossest stuff in the world exists to explosions.

Of course, adults can participate and little kids are not out. Kid City and the Little Learner’s Lab are permanent exhibits just for children five and under, and there’s even a play area where babies can learn more about the world through touch and play. 

The New Children’s Museum

Location: Downtown San Diego

Best San Diego Museums: The New Children's Museum
Photo courtesy of The New Children’s Museum

If you’re starting to see a pattern of great kid-friendly museums giving children lots of opportunities to learn through creative play, you’re right. The New Children’s Museum is another one of the best museums in San Diego because it makes learning so much fun. This museum is known for its ever-changing exhibits.

There’s a room filled with mattresses where kids (and grownups) can jump and crawl as much as they want, the Sketch Aquarium where fish you draw on paper come alive in a huge digital aquarium, and even the art on display can be touched and played with. 

Tip: This San Diego museum is located near many of the downtown San Diego hotels, so it’s easy to include in a busy itinerary.

San Diego Natural History Museum

Location: Balboa Park

Best San Diego museums: San Diego Natural History Museum
Photo credit: Katie Dillon

Known to locals as the NAT, this is one of the best museums in San Diego and a favorite of local and visiting kids alike. What’s so great about this museum is that children of all ages will get something out of it, and you can return again and again knowing that they’ll enjoy and learn something new with each visit.

We’ve loved saying hello to “Al” (the allosaurus cast in the lobby), completing the scavenger hunts in Fossil Mysteries, watching the Foucault Pendulum swing, and learning about Southern California’s unique habitats. I’ve actually had a chance to go behind the scenes at the NAT to see some of the over 8 million specimens in their collection and to find out more about how scientists design the museum’s exhibits.

See also: Local Kids’ Guide to the San Diego Natural History Museum

USS Midway Museum

Location: Downtown San Diego

Best San Diego Children's Museum: USS Midway Museum
Photo courtesy of USS Midway Museum

The longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century is now a museum at the San Diego Embarcadero in downtown. You might assume that this wouldn’t be a kid-friendly attraction, but the people who designed the USS Midway experience have done a wonderful job creating a hands-on attraction for younger visitors.

Admission includes a self-guided audio tour (including an audio tour with content geared specifically for 7-12-year-old visitors), but there are guides on board — some of whom actually served on the USS Midway — that are happy to answer kids’ questions about life on board the ship. 

Go straight to the gate with discount USS Midway Tickets from aRes Travel

See also: Tips for Visiting the USS Midway and the USS Midway’s cookie recipe

Maritime Museum of San Diego

Location: Downtown San Diego

You’ll find one of the largest collections of historic sea vessels at this museum, which is worth adding to your itinerary if you’re looking for things to do in San Diego with teens. The collection includes fascinating exhibits showcasing maritime history, the fishing industry, and war on the seas, along with real frigates, swift boats, steam-powered vessels, and submarines. There are even opportunities to ride aboard some of the museum’s ships through special tours (book in advance) — a one of a kind experience.

Tip: See the Maritime Museum of San Diego and the USS Midway Museum in the same day as they’re only a short walk from each other.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Location: Balboa Park

Best San Diego Museums: Air and Space Museum
Photo courtesy of San Diego Air & Space Museum

This museum in Balboa Park isn’t one of the children’s museums of San Diego, but it is absolutely child-friendly. In addition to the original and full-size replica aircraft and spacecraft in the San Diego Air & Space Museum — like the actual Apollo 9 Command Module — there are also flight simulators and a lot of hands-on and interactive displays designed with younger visitors in mind. You could easily spend hours here — especially if you decide to catch a movie in the 3D/4D Zable Theater.

The Model Railroad Museum

Location: Balboa Park

Another gem in Balboa Park, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum is a must-see for families with kids who are obsessed with trains. There are over 27,000 square feet of amazingly detailed model train layouts — complete with full towns and farms, tiny carnivals, and more — making this the biggest scale Model Railroad Museum in the whole United States.

San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum

Location: Escondido

This is one of the best museums in San Diego for families with young children for two reasons. First, it’s inexpensive so you can go a lot. And second, it’s hands-on in a way many museums are not. Learning here is definitely rooted in play, and kids are encouraged to touch, imagine, explore, and experiment to learn more about the natural world, science, math, engineering, art, and history. Children from the toddler years through grade school just love it. As with many of our local museums, this San Diego museum is free for kids in October and there are memberships available.

Birch Aquarium

Location: La Jolla

Birch Aquarium at Scripps La Jolla Museum
Photo credit: Katie Dillon

Birch Aquarium at Scripps showcases the research of the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego through over 60 aquarium habitats, hands-on exhibits, an outdoor playground, and even a touch tide pool. Go for a raised awareness of how our actions impact the environment, marvel at the over 3000 sea animals in residence, and learn about some of the equipment scientists use at sea.

It’s a must for any budding oceanographer. Don’t forget your camera as views from Tide Pool Plaza over La Jolla Shores Beach are breathtaking.

What are your favorite museums in San Diego to enjoy with your kids?

See also: 60+ Free Things to Do in San Diego

Learn which San Diego museums are best for kids

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